So, if you want to dominate the natural SERPs over the next 12 months, these are the factors that I think are going to be the most important.
1. Website load time
Check into Google’s Webmaster Tools and you’ll get plenty of feedback on website load time – a sure sign that it’s an element you need to get right.
When the GoogleBot crawls your site, it needs an easy and unblocked route to your content. Many posts on the Google Webmaster Central blog suggest allowing the GoogleBot to crawl all areas of your site – they could be key areas in your visitors’ journeys, and they could have high load times. Giving GoogleBot free rein over your sitemap will make sure you get the best possible feedback about page load times.
Google’s ‘Caffeine’ update incorporates load times as part of its algorithm. So far it’s been difficult to measure the impact of this change in the UK SERPs; but as we move through 2010 this update will affect more sets of keywords and themes. In August last year, the big shake up had a big impact on a set of ‘Hollywood’ search terms, which also gave more power to brand owners. I expect this to roll out even further and – of course – throw up odd results (i.e. from other countries) as we go along.
2. More competitive local search results
Google Local Business listings have proven to be a fantastic channel of traffic for website owners. As more SEO agencies look to leverage the power of these listings at the top of the SERPs, I expect Google to reward top spots by focusing on quality and relevance.
The current set up means you can easily bump your listing into the top spots for relevant searches like ‘Solicitors Kent’, but as we move into 2010 I expect listings that have more reviews, similar location-based inbound links and use other Google products (e.g. AdWords, Product Search) will benefit the most.
I expect Google to tighten the algorithm of local listings further, so it won’t be (potentially) as easy to achieve quick wins in this area.
3. Authority websites to continue to deliver more weight for SEO
The way we search is changing. Whether your original search stemmed from Facebook, a Twitter post or elsewhere, these days we can avoid trawling through pages of search results to find what we’re looking for. In some cases it may just be easier to ask someone within an online community – we are guided by recommendation more then ever.
Although it’s hard to predict the longevity of Twitter’s growth (or decline), networks of this kind will be a growing source of direct visits to your website. Regular visits from authority websites will strengthen your position in the SERPS and need to be taken into consideration for your SEO.
This means you need to embrace social networks: tweet regularly, generate discussion and get your news read!
4. Link building: chasing PageRank will be a thing of the past
Link building strategies are often guided by chasing a link from a site with an awesomely high PageRank; but I predict we will soon be switching our attention to websites that have greater relevance and high crawl rates. Inbound links from static websites that are never updated will be worth very little, whereas a link from news source that isn’t necessarily ‘anchored up to the nines’ will be of greater value.
I also expect PageRank will be removed from the Google toolbar in 2010.
5. Long tail will (still) be the future for 2010
As we use increasingly accurate searches, the user journey through Google’s results pages may be much shorter then previous years.
This means that websites (especially eCommerce or news-related sites with lots of fresh content) need to focus on higher quality ‘SEO friendly’ content. Good descriptive copy, metadata and headings all count towards achieving accurate results.
There will be more pockets of opportunity for long tail searches in SEO; the trick is to identify these terms and build your strategy around them, rather than getting distracted by the the ego-inflating terms that don’t necessarily convert.
So, there you go – a few little gems from Coast Digital’s SEO crystal ball! Let’s hear your predictions for 2010 too… ideas in the comments please.